Ann Coffey MP has welcomed plans to give families extra help to cope when a loved one goes missing.
The proposals from the Ministry of Justice are to create a new power of “guardianship” for relatives of missing people.
This would allow families to deal with the legal and financial issues that arise in the initial months when someone vanishes – for example being able to suspend direct debits for mobile phone and utility bills.
Ms Coffey, the chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Runaway and Missing Children and Adults, is a long time campaigner for the guardianship power and in 2011 she chaired a Parliamentary Inquiry into support for the families of missing people.
Two of the main recommendations from the Inquiry were a Presumption of Death Act and a power of guardianship to help families cope with financial and practical issues in the short term.
The Presumption of Death Act, received Royal Assent in May, and will be introduced in April 2014.
Ms Coffey said: “I am delighted with that we now have plans for a guardianship order. Under current law families of missing people have no way to make alternative arrangements until their loved one can be presumed dead, which can be many years after they go missing. On-going direct debits can drain a missing person’s bank account and some families are forced to pay both halves of a joint mortgage, and some families risk losing their homes.
“A guardianship order will help many families cope in the initial months with the complicated financial and practical affairs of a relative who has been missing for a short period of time. It will alleviate some stress for families at a time of great emotional upheaval.”
A consultation on guardianship with detailed proposals is due to be launched later this year with a view to taking a final decision in 2014.
The Presumption of Death Act put in place the legal framework for a certificate of presumed death, which will help families deal with the array of legal and financial issues that need to be resolved when a person is missing and presumed dead. The certificate will be equivalent to a death certificate in its legal power.